Despite strong jobs report, wages still flat

Job Seekers Look For Employment Opportunities At Career Fair

A job applicant and a potential employer shake hands at the 'Denver Hires Job Fair' in Denver, Colorado.

[UPDATED: FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2014, 9:58am ET]The April 2014 jobs report from the Department of Labor shows much stronger employment growth than economists expected, and a significantly lower unemployment rate. The unemployment rate fell 0.4 percent to 6.3 percent in April.

Nonfarm private- and public-sector payroll jobs rose by 288,000 in April. The consensus expectation was 215,000. Job gains came across the board, in white- and blue-collar jobs: Professional and business services (+75,000), temporary employment (+24,000), retail trade (+35,000) with car dealerships particularly strong. Bars and restaurants added 33,000 jobs and construction added 32,000 jobs, a welcome recovery for a housing sector that has seemed weak in recent months. Health care and mining also rose strongly. Manufacturing and government jobs were both essentially unchanged.

The unemployment rate decline appears very favorable on its face -- 6.3 percent is the lowest unemployment rate since September 2008, as the financial crisis was raging. It hit a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, before beginning its painstakingly slow, steady decline to April 2014’s level.

One force driving the unemployment rate down is a decline in the labor force participation rate -- to 62.8 percent in April. The number of people in the civilian labor force -- those either working, or unemployed and actively looking for work -- declined by 806,000, after increasing by 503,000 in March. Data from the household survey -- the source of labor force measures -- is considered more volatile than the job-creation numbers derived from the Establishment Survey, and it might be a few months before these trends settle out more clearly.

Job gains turn out to have been better than previously reported during the winter, when the economy slowed dramatically amid severe weather events. February’s figure was revised up from +197,000 to +222,000, and March was revised from +192,000 to +203,000. That puts the three-month average at 238,000. That could signal a moderate, but significant, acceleration of job-creation in the economy. At some point, faster wage growth could even follow.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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